As I’ve grown older I’ve come to learn the power of the dollar. I can use it to buy things I want, and things I need. You can use your money to prove a point, for instance I’ve not eaten at a major fast food chain since 2005, I try to avoid shopping at large national supermarkets, I never shop at Walmart. This is the opposite of support. Then there are ways to support businesses by spending my money, like Toms shoes, local businesses, farmers markets, and whenever possible I like to buy albums from musicians directly. Recently I’ve begun to spend my money on products from large corporations in order to show my support for a product.
It shames me to admit that I don’t see many movies in the theater, last year I saw four. In a good year it’s something like eight. For me to go out and spend the money to see a movie before it hits my Netflix queue, it has to be either a sure thing or pretty darn close. Recently however there is another factor at play in determining to go out to a movie: if it’s a movie I want to support.
In the grand scheme of things opening week box office numbers don’t really matter. For instance, My Big Fat Greek Wedding earned just $5 million in its first weekend in wide release, Juno hauled in $10 million. Over time they pulled in $241 and $143 Million. This doesn’t count DVD sales which seem to be the industries bread and butter with theatrical releases getting shorter and shorter.
Opening weekend box office gross does matter to the most important people, the major studios who produce the film. My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Juno are the exception and not the rule, generally sales diminish after the opening weekend. When a film opens poorly it looses money and closes early. Even a movie that opens with an enormous weekend, can only hope to match the previous week. It doesn’t matter what the DVD sales are like, studios are gauging public interest, on how well it does in it’s opening weekend. If the film does well, there’s a good chance the studio will continue to make similar movies.
My wife and I had been eagerly anticipating the movie Bridesmaids ever since we first heard about it a year and a half ago. It was a given that we were going to see this movie in the theater, that we would see it opening weekend was not. You might remember that in the weeks leading up to it’s release considerable attention was paid to it’s all-star-all-female cast. A common sentiment bouncing around was that historically all female comedy films don’t perform well at the box office.
I strongly doubted that this was because people didn’t like films with an all female cast, more likely their poor performances had to do with the fact that studios were unwilling to invest in decent promotion. For Bridesmaids, Universal went for it and properly promoted the film. In their eyes this was a serious gamble, one that had to pay off, if it didn’t chances were that we wouldn’t see another film like it until the studios got the sour taste out of their mouth.
It’s a fair question to ask if a movie will be funny, it’s unfair to ask if it will be funny simply because it has an all female cast. The barometer pointed towards funny, and the only real surprise would have been that it wasn’t funny. Yet the critics continued to mention how surprised they were by the film. This got my wife riled up and she insisted we see the movie opening weekend. “It has to do well,” she said, “we have to prove them wrong.” She insisted, even when we got to the theater late and watched the movie from the first row with our heads tilted toward the ceiling. It paid off as Bridesmaids opened at $26 million and had people screaming for more.
It was the first time I purposely went to a movie on opening weekend, not only because I really wanted to see it but in order to support it. When I began to think back I realized I’d subconsciously done this a number of times before. Where the Wild Things Are, Baby Mamma, Pineapple Express, the Social Network. I desperately wanted to see all these movies, but I also wanted Hollywood to continue to make movies like them.
This week the new George Lucas produced film Red Tails, about the Tuskegee Airmen, opens nationwide. It’s no secret that Lucas has had a hell of a time getting this film made, it’s been in the works for some twenty years. On the Daily Show he told Jon Stewart that the primary reason for the prolonged production schedule was in trying to convince studios to take a chance on an all black action film cast with a sizable budget. I don’t disagree with Lucas, everyone knows that studios are looking for marketability not necessarily quality, and while we’re being honest, the studios aren’t exactly… racially diverse.
Red Tails needs to exceed $50 million in order to make a profit. On paper that shouldn’t be a problem, but the studios have convinced themselves that an all black action movie won’t reach the right audiences. That hints to the idea that the same film with an all white cast would be a home run, while the story of the under appreciated Tuskegee Airmen is less marketable. I couldn’t disagree more, if this film does poorly it won’t be because people don’t want to see it, it will be because the studios didn’t promote it properly.
Honestly, I have no idea if this will be a good film. The trailer looks good, the topic is fascinating, at the very least I expect it to be entertaining. Lucas’s recent track record isn’t very good and it’s possible that Red Tails won’t be either. That’s beside the point, because if a trio of embarrassingly bad Transformer movies can reach $100 million, certainly this one can surpass $50 million. The bottom line is that studios shouldn’t base the future of a genre based on a single films success at the box office.
Despite what has turned out to be an already busy weekend for me, I will find the time to watch Red Tails. Not only because it looks like a fun and entertaining movie, but because I want it to succeed so that other similar movies can be made in the future.